Does Auto-Matching Cause Unintentional Trademark Abuse?

Auto-matching is a feature provided by both Google and Yahoo which allows the search provider to autonomously select new keywords for you and to create new ad copy for you, without the advertiser’s advance permission. The new keywords are selected from various places including your ad copy text, your display URLs, your landing page and/or common typos and related terms. Your ads will appear as sponsored listings when these new keyword terms are searched by a consumer.

In other words, Google and Yahoo, by way of the auto-matching feature, can show your ads on keywords that you did not intend to sponsor. The objective is to assist you in growing your reach on paid search. The inadvertent consequence of this is that advertisers may wind up sponsoring inappropriate terms which can rise to unexpected trademark abuse, and potentially put affiliates, resellers and franchisees in breach of the terms and conditions of channel sales programs.

You can find details on each of these automatic matching features here:

Google: What is automatic matching? Yahoo: Yahoo: Master terms and conditions and program terms

Background on trademark abuse on paid search

There are two types of trademark abuse that cause headaches for advertisers on sponsored search:

  • Ad copy abuse: When another advertiser uses your brand in either its ad text or in its display URL
  • Sponsored keywords abuse: When another advertiser sponsors your brand or a variation of your brand e.g. a misspelling

In the USA, both Google and Yahoo allow advertisers to sponsor branded keywords, but do not allow the advertisers to use trademarks in ad copy. Before I get too far, I always like to point out when I talk about this topic, while use in ad copy is frowned upon within the terms and conditions, neither search provider actively polices your trademarks. Its up to you to monitor activity involving your own brand.

Unintentional trademark abuse

I am growing more and more worried that the automated matching features offered by both Google and Yahoo could lead to unintentional brand abuse.

Here are 2 examples of how this can occur:

Example 1:

Advertiser A is a toy supplier. Advertiser B is a retailer.

Advertiser A, the supplier, gives Advertiser B, the retailer, permission to resell its products. In the terms and conditions, Advertiser A prohibits Advertiser B from sponsoring any of its brands on paid search.

Advertiser B creates an ad, and in the display url, Advertiser B includes Advertiser A’s brand name for example:

Google’s or Yahoo’s automated system will see this ad. It will also see that Advertiser B is not currently sponsoring the term “toy supplier.” The automated tool will then decide to create a new ad and sponsor a new keyword for Advertiser B, automatically. The new keyword is “Toy Supplier” which it has pulled from the display URL. Advertiser B is not permitted to sponsor “Toy Supplier” and doesn’t even know that her ads are triggered by it.

Advertiser A, then sees Advertiser B’s unintentional advertisement, and begins to take action against Advertise B.

Example 2:

Advertiser A is a college. Advertiser B is an affiliate marketer.

Advertiser A, the college, gives Advertiser B, the affiliate, permission to participate in its affiliate program. In its terms and conditions, Advertiser A prohibits sponsoring the name of its school.

Advertiser B creates an advertisement with the word “college” in the ad text. Advertiser B does not sponsor the keyword “college” because it is too expensive and broad.

The automated tool recognizes that the word “college” appears in the ad text, and that Advertiser B is not sponsoring the term. The automated tool also knows that “coliege” is a common misspelling of the term “college.” The automated tool then creates a new ad for Advertiser B, which appears with the broad match version of “coliege.” A search for the term “coliege” combined with the brand name of the school, triggers Advertiser B’s ad.

How can you determine if brand abuse is an accident?

The automated tools will only continue to show ads if the ad generates traffic. After experimentation, if the ad fails to meet certain criteria, then the matching optimizers will stop displaying the ad on failing keywords. I find that if an ad appears only once or twice, and your affiliate or reseller denies sponsoring it (and has no prior history of abuse), it’s probably a safe bet that auto-matching was involved.

However, unless the advertiser allows you to login and view its search account, you will not know for sure. To deal with this fairly, its probably a good idea to make affiliates and resellers aware of the AdWords and Yahoo Search Marketing feature and its potential to cause accidental abuse.

What Google and Yahoo should do

I sure hope that Google and Yahoo enable the following safe-guards with their respective auto-matching features:

  • Offer an easy opt-out
  • Provide reporting that identifies which keywords and ad copy were contrived by the optimizer
  • Provide a method for the advertiser to list prohibited keywords that the optimizer is not allowed to use.

Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Search Engine Land.

Related Topics: Brand Aid | Channel: SEM | Google: AdWords | Yahoo: Search Ads


About The Author: is CEO of The Search Monitor. The Search Monitor is an ad monitoring platform which provides precision intelligence on SEM, SEO, PLAs, Shopping, and Display ads.

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  • mikeott

    You suggested Google/Yahoo should provide a method for advertisers to list prohibited keywords that the optimizer is not allowed to use. Wouldn’t negative matching do just that?

    Also from what I understand they only do this when you’re broad matching a keyword. If you exact match everything this shouldn’t still be happening.

    Google also allows users to opt out.

    Google also provides a search query report where you can see what your terms your ads are showing on.


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